A symbolic representation of the unknown, the labyrinth appears in all cultures and in different disciplines - from theology and astrology to art, literature and film. In some cases mazes are used as allegories, they have ritualistic meanings, connecting the conscious and the unconscious, suggesting disorientation in those blind alleys and trails that lead to the centre and in those convolutions that often symbolise the various miseries of human life.
In Jorge Luis Borges' stories labyrinths are trademark elements of his magic realism, they are places built by cruel kings to drive people crazy or mysterious paths to the stars. As Borges wrote: "I thought of a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars."
There is actually something that goes beyond mere fascination with form in labyrinths and that prompts artists to delve deeper into the symbolic and metaphorical value of mazes, discovering an entire and extremely difficult to unravel geography of the mind.
Labyrinths hint indeed at a more spiritual and divine dimension, they are symbols of an endless quest for change that perfectly reflects our contemporary thirst for immediate and extraordinary changes in a world that too often puzzles us, revealing us as lacking the knowledge of our purpose in life.
French knitwear designer Xavier Brisoux maybe had all this symbolism in mind when he started working on his S/S13 men and womenswear collections.
Entitled “I Care”, the collections have actually got a precise starting point, the myth of Icarus (in French Icare) and of his attempt to fly away from Crete with feathers and wax wings that his father, the craftsman Daedalus and creator of the Labyrinth for King Minos, made.
Icarus becomes a symbol for this collection and an excuse for Brisoux to create maze-like designs on his silk, cashmere and cotton tops, but also to deconstruct and reconstruct his knitwear and the final meaning of the collection.
As Icarus/Icare becomes indeed “I care”, the intricate knits of conventional square unicursal mazes (often looking like aerial views of ancient ziggurats) turn into wing-like formations protruding from the back of the jumpers or sleeves deconstructively attached on the back of a sweater to symbolise the wings of a modern man/woman trying to escape from the constricting conventions of modern society.
Rather than just calling back to Ariadne and her ball of string that helped Theseus to survive the labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur, the knits (all of them characterised by names, such as "Fil d'Arianne" or "Daedalus", that call back to the Icarus story) become tangible symbols that prompt the wearer to be and look unconventional in a world that consistently turns the thirst for homologation into a desire and a rule.
The other point to highlight is that these knits aren't trendy, but they are timeless, representing for the wearer a mandate for a continued journey through life with all the good and bad surprises it may reserve us, death included.
Death is actually one of the components of Icarus' story and of this collection. As Brisoux explains: “The collection is about losing a close one, about not having their advice anymore, and aknowledging that a father’s advice is not always listened to. Hence the labyrinth pattern that you see in the collection: the feeling of being lost. The labyrinth stitch is achieved with a mix of partial knitting - 90° angles - and ladders. In terms of pattern, some pieces are very very complex to make as their pattern has a labyrinth shape and we end up with very square, almost boxy shapes. The third particularity of the collection is the stressing of the shoulder blades that evoke wing, this motif gives a looser look to the silhouette.”
At the moment there is a renewed interest in knits also thanks to global initiatives such as the Campaign for Wool. Yet the main mistake of the fashion media is still that of connecting knitwear with the semantic field of coziness and comfort and of very rarely attempting to elevate knitwear to a higher intellectual level (despite the fact that there are quite a few contemporary knitwear designers capable of producing extremely innovative pieces thanks to researches into stitches, yarns and new fibres).
I do have quite a few pieces by Brisoux and while they are cosy and comfortable, they endow the wearer with a strange sense of futuristic empowerment given by the (superficially simple, but actually extremely elaborate) irreproducible construction. The latter has indeed an architectural edge that - maybe consciously, maybe unconsciously - Brisoux infuses in all his pieces.
Designs from "I Care" evoke for example in their rigid boxy mazes architectural projects such as José Orrego's "Metropolis". The latter is among the proposals for the “Yucun Inhabit the Desert” project presented by Peru at the 13th Venice Architecture International Biennale and focused on the creation of a new city in the desert, in the same territory of the ancient Moche civilisation.
Orrego's project shows what looks like a squarish maze-like structure, which is actually an ordered conglomerate made of dwellings that allow the residents to live, eat, rest, sleep and socialise and work in a structured city and a Cartesian System.
I'm going to leave you today with a final labyrinthine inspiration: David Bowie's “As The World Falls Down” from the soundtrack of Jim Henson's 1896 film Labyrinth (after all these symbolisms and this brief architectural lesson, we all need something lighter...). Far from the real and often too intricate mazes that life may offer us, this is more about fantasy and getting lost not in a labyrinth, but in the arms of someone pretty mysterious. Enjoy!
All images of Xavier Brisoux's S/S 13 “I Care” collection by Mathieu Drouet
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